I’m not in the habit of going around saying I have “daddy issues,” though, while I haven’t looked into any sort of official diagnosis, I will admit a professional who focuses on such things might be willing to apply a more formal variation on the term to describe some of my impulsively developed coping mechanisms as a result of learning functional reactions to the dysfunctional behaviors of that particular parental figure... on multiple occasions. My biological father was an individual about whom I can only be grateful existed because without him, I would not have — and while I imagine I could probably fill a small book on our history, in this forum, the less said, the better. My Dad, though, is a good hearted man who loves me, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there for forgiveness of everything else — mainly, his emotionally reserved nature, and his tendency towards conflict avoidance which lead him to be more or less absent in the conventional actions of raising me.
Not being a psychoanalyst, myself, I probably couldn’t accurately speak to in how many different ways these childhood concerns have impacted my life, though for a while in my past, they did create a rather unique pattern related to the types of men whose company I have kept for any significant period of time. One long-term housemate once pointed out that single fathers who’ve been granted sole custody are enough of a rare exception out in the wilds of humanity, it’s quite frankly bizarre that I have been either directly involved or closely associated with at least five of them. I hadn’t ever really given it much thought until he called attention to it... from my perspective, that was just my understanding of what was normal in my world.
Throughout my prolonged single years, I held so strongly to the conviction that whether or not I was fulfilled in life would not be dependent upon whether or not I procreated, I can honestly say I was never intentionally seeking out “good father material” in a male companion out of personal interest or any sense of “nesting” instincts. Also, I have certainly never once for a moment sought out a man to place himself in a position of leadership or control over any aspect of my life — and have in fact violently rejected any who’ve presumed to take on an air of authority over our interactions. Problems resulting from lacking positive masculine paradigms can manifest in multiple ways, but, in my case, an Electra complex, I have never had; a Lolita, I have never been — I have preferred, rather, to instead lean on the internal strength derived from within the power of being a woman, and to forge my own path with the tools readily available at my disposal.
Maybe, though, having had such prolonged exposure to the kinds of characteristics that make up a poor male role model, my sense of the measure of a man came about more from knowing what traits to avoid. Maybe it’s just coincidental that — thanks to a revolving bedroom door of trial-and-error over a longer period of years than I’d care to admit to — I’ve tried on more than my fair share of “types,” and the only ones who had any staying power with me also happen to be accountable with their children. Maybe it was less that I was searching for good father figures, and more that I was unwilling to settle for negligent partners — perhaps it’s just more likely that finding oneself in the company of responsible fathers is merely a natural consequence of surrounding oneself with reliably dependable men... it isn’t automatically a given that being a decent human will necessarily make you a good parent, but at the very least, it’s a requisite starting point.
Minion had been a father for nearly a decade before we became connected, but I’d never had a ringside seat to this angle of his experience until a few years ago, when I delivered his progeny. Bearing witness to the life of your friend and lover as a mentor to your son brings a whole new layer into expanding the ways you find yourself capable of loving — and in many respects completely changes the entire nature of the game. I do my best to show my gratitude, but so often I feel I come up short.
Years down the road, I imagine there will be plenty of terrible ties and crazy socks and discount grooming kits with cheap cologne from our little one — maybe eventually graduating into a phone call from college or another state — but for now, on Father’s Day, Minion gets a card from his baby, one from his pets, one from his adoring bride, possibly takeout pizza, maybe some sugar free candy, and he gets to kick back and take it easy for the day... in theory.* It’s really only a drop in the bucket to try and make him feel a little special, to share with him how much we love him, and to show our appreciation for everything he does for us. (*I say in theory, because Minion doesn’t cool his jets very well — there’s always something he feels he should be doing.)
Since these activities generally comprise the extent of our customary practices, I wasn’t expecting to spend any portion of my Sunday educating ourselves with new details about a variety of animal types. But, as Minion was in the kitchen last night baking me a quiche for my breakfast this week (see previous side note), I happened upon this year’s celebratory Google Doodle for the familial occasion, and as our boy looked on in wide-eyed wonder, I realized I was stuck moving forward with the process. So, with his input, together we produced our own homemade digital tribute to his Papa.
Presenting this offering, I pointed out to Minion the paternal archetypes from the animal kingdom — including seahorses, penguins, and bees (Bees?! Who knew???) — which naturally prompted us, being the nerds we are, to exercise an or so hour of Google-fu, researching into which animal breeds have strong paternal figures. It seems, in addition to those mentioned, there are a variety of other creatures whose fathers take on active roles in parenting — with avian, canine, and primate groups having the strongest showing:
• Arctic Wolves, African Wild Dogs, Foxes, Golden Jackals
• Marmosets, Mountain Gorillas, Owl Monkeys, Tamarins
• Flamingoes, Great Horned Owls, Grey Catbirds, Jacanas, Phalarope Sandpipers, Ratites
(Hey, I took the time to learn these random things, so now you can know them, too!)
In some of these cases, the male is the predominant caregiver for the young. For some, it’s a team effort between both parents. A few make their contributions to the family unit through their support of the mothers.
The Great Horned Owl, for example, is the sole provider of all food his entire family will consume from the time his mate — who is 25% larger than he is — first nestles down upon their clutch of eggs in the dead of winter; she will not move from that spot until her brood is at least a month old, after the month long-incubation period required to hatch them... if not for the diligence of her partner, the proud Papa, they would all surely starve to death.
Ratite** fathers (**category of related breeds, including Emu / Ostrich / Rhea) are the poster birds for stepdads everywhere: classic examples of what it means to take on the care of parenting on behalf of another, and they also represent the epitome of self-sacrifice, losing over a third of their body weight while they incubate the eggs in a nest — at least half or more of which likely do not even belong to them — for nearly two months without food, water, or rest... and then aggressively defend the young as their own once they’ve hatched.
The Grey Catbird — a native of the Americas, named for its “mewlike” call — shares responsibility for the feeding of their hatchlings between both parents, but prior to their arrival, the male sets his mate’s roost on a kind of makeshift “throne” ...literally putting his female partner high up on a pedestal to perch from.
I made a point to confess earlier on that before Firebird was born, I had a strong emotional investment in the hope he would be a girl, because, while nurturing a girl to navigate becoming a strong, independent woman capable of thinking for herself without the need for a man to control her was not just a great responsibility, but a daunting challenge, I knew how to do that — I believed I would be singularly equal to that particular task. My Mom was the one who helped to put a positive perspective on my expectations for bringing up a boy, but in so doing, she also forced me to take stock in how much greater a conundrum it would be to steer a young boy into the kind of man who would always treat women with basic dignity and respect, and I realized then... I have absolutely no idea how or where to even begin taking the first step on the road to that seemingly insurmountable task. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it alone.
The primary function of every parent is to make of one’s children successful contributing members to society, with the secondary expectation of roles being to in so doing, also promote one’s own values forward into future generations. I recognize what that might end up looking like could take on many different kinds of forms, but I have to act under the assumption that my kid might one day want to attract a partner, and create a family, so I need to make sure he’s properly equipped for either outcome, or both. One thing is for certain... if one would ever have any hopes of becoming a good father, he must start out by first being a good man. And, achieving that baseline can come about in large part through having a good father as the pattern to model after (though certainly, this is not the only way, as my Minion is evidence to... his character is primarily the byproduct of his Mama’s rearing, while the obstacles of his temperament and complications of his disposition he constantly struggles to put behind him are a direct result of his father’s abuse).
My husband recently made the statement to me that he “doesn’t understand feminism,” which is ironic, considering he’s married to an outspoken advocate for feminism, and is in fact, himself, a faithful feminist, by his very nature. I explained to him that the notion of feminism is nothing more than an idea — much the same as “Antifa” is shorthand for anti-fascism, or being against totalitarian government — where the concept represents the radical notion that all women deserve human rights equal to those of men, and social treatment with proper respect and basic dignity on the same level as what men experience as their customary standard. When he responded with confusion about why the idea would need to put women forward, rather than simply calling for equal rights for everyone (which is in fact exactly what it is doing), I further clarified that common oblivious response is about as ignorant and useful as the follow-up to BLM that “All Lives Matter,” which immediately placed the position of feminism into a relatable perspective for him.
To be fair, though, Minion isn’t being deliberately obtuse — his myopia comes from a lack of perception — something we’re all guilty of, at times, and must actively work to overcome if we want to be empathetic to the lived experiences of our fellow humans. But while his words suggest he doesn’t get it, his actions declare the reason it doesn’t make sense to him is because he can’t relate to the kind of person who wouldn’t automatically consider all genders to be on the same footing as a matter of course... and in that respect, he really doesn’t get it. Through our relationship, though, my husband has become more aware of the common hardships all women face everyday just for being women, and as a result, he has become more informed and compassionate, because when Minion learns, Minion grows.
It may be, then, that I won’t ever really have to do a whole lot to teach my son how to treat women properly... perhaps, all I really need to do is point to the example in his Papa. I really can’t expect my boy to be decent to girls, or to become a young man who is respectful of women, if what he sees every day in his home life gives him the impression that females are not worthy of reverence, or that males have the right to consider themselves superior. But I don’t have to worry about that, because the man in our house tells a far different story of how the world works, no discussions required, in the little things he does every day that point the way.
These are just a handful of the best ways the first love of my life is a partner to me, who in his action demonstrates to our son on a daily basis what kind of man is worthy of being emulated.
• He cooks all our evening meals and breakfasts once a week
• He packs me a lunch to take to work every day
• He turns down my linens every night to be cozy for crawling into bed
• He does all the dishes, runs the dishwasher, and puts all the clean dishes away
• He picks our toddler’s playpen area every night and organizes the toys
so our boy has a clear space to play in the next morning
• He handles the greater share of our household cleaning
• He performs odd handyman repair jobs around our shoddily engineered rental home
• He’s the first line of minor fix-it mechanics for our aging automobiles
• He is willing to ask for directions and get help when he’s stumped or in over his head
• He gathers up all the garbage in the house, takes it to the curb and brings it back each week
• He keeps the lawn mowed, hedges trimmed, weeds whacked, and leaves raked & bagged
• He cleans the gutters, soffit & fascia clear of debris
• He winterizes all the windows in the house and the three-season porch screens
• He keeps the driveways and walks plowed, de-iced, and salted
• He maintains a winter safety kit in each of our vehicles,
and performs regular routine maintenance to keep them in proper working condition
• He runs errands as needed
• He works every day without fail like clockwork
at a dead-end job that steadily sucks away a piece of his soul,
to contribute the financial foundation that stabilizes our household budget,
and to provide for our medical coverage
• He never walks out the door without giving me a goodbye kiss
• He always greets me with a smile and a smooch
• He speaks to me kindly and treats me with respect
• He shows me tenderness and affection
• He shares with me the inner workings of his heart,
and whatever random thoughts are on his mind
• He consults with me on any and all major decisions, not just for all of us,
but even for himself, because he acknowledges my general knowledge,
he appreciates my wisdom (he says it’s the reason he married me! ;-),
and he values my insights
• He recognizes each of us a equal partners
in the functions of our family and our household
• He laughs often — he takes great joy in simple pleasures
• He finds amusement and diversion in his own personal interests,
and does not require his family to entertain him
• He relishes his family’s company, whether we are engaging in activities,
or doing nothing at all, so long as we are together
• He is kind to all animals, and cares for our pets gently and tenderly
• He changes poopy diapers, diaper genie liners, and dirty litter boxes
• He hugs and holds, kisses and caresses our son, and engages in active play with him
• He sets and enforces healthy boundaries to keep him safe, and to train him
• He vocalizes his mind, even when it doesn’t conform to the accepted norm
• He speaks to others with decency, whether or not they have shown they deserve it
• He does all of this without complaint, whether he is tired, or sore, or busy, or run-down
I realize this is only an incomplete summary of things the man does, and certainly a man is so much more than a mere measure of the things he has done, but how do we judge a person if not by his action? It is in action we show our true colors to others... indeed, it is only in our actions, we can truly teach. Minion, more than most anyone I’ve ever known, so perfectly represents his own ideals, his way of life is a living testament to a simple truth commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi...
“In all things, preach. If necessary, use words.”
The Misfit Manor household is not by any stretch of the imagination religious. Minion is a wholly committed atheist, and me... I’m not quite ready yet to let go of the idea that there’s something greater than ourselves in the universe — something beautiful and undefined — but I certainly don’t allow hanging on to that hope to influence my expectations of others. Still, in my experience, I’ve found it is people who do not cling so tightly to the crutch of religion who seem to maintain the strongest holds on their own core beliefs — whatever they may be — and these are the principals we pass on to others as we encounter them throughout our lives.
Minion isn’t by any means perfect, nor, either, of course, am I. Like any couple, we have our issues, but we weather them together, as a unified team. We may not be a village within ourselves, but are blest to have two well balanced companions who love and respect one another equally dedicated to the mission of raising our child in a healthy and loving environment together, offering him equivalent measures of the feminine and masculine essence of the human psyche, which he perceives in equal parts from both of us, as we have each found a kind of harmony to both of these aspects of our own nature within ourselves. It is our hope that our Firebird will so too one day embrace every element of his own generative makeup.
Right now my three-year-old embodies the kind of sensitivity that can cause a particularly overwhelming work of music to bring him to tears — just this afternoon, Thomas crooning a soulful, apologetic ballad made him weep openly, until I had to scoop him up into a cuddle, singing along with the cheeky tank engine to help my son find comfort in the beauty of it. He didn’t get that from Minion... his Papa hasn’t retained that level of emotional expression into adulthood, thanks to having it beat out of him by his own father, but I’m grateful he’s not the type of man who would seek to squelch it in our son. Firebird comes by his emotional sentience honestly, through his Mama, and that is a minefield I do know how to help him not just to tiptoe through, but to tap dance upon, with poise and grace, and perhaps even some exhilaration.
By this point, though we both bear the brunt of the burden as a whole, Minion and I have fallen into a kind of rhythmic routine around our respective parenting responsibilities — as I imagine most couples do — based on the roles that come most naturally to each of us. While we never set out to intentionally define, “You do this, I do that;” we were just willing, as we have been with much of our lives — whatever it may be, come what may — to take it as it comes, and let things work themselves out the way they are meant to. And that seems to be functioning just fine for us so far.
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone how much of a control freak I can be about many things, and when it comes to the well-being of my boy, I surely haven’t made any exceptions. And yet, in many respects, I feel like it can be counterproductive to squeeze too tightly. What I believe is most important is the freedom to experience the flow of life on your own terms, starting from the comfort of a safe and nourishing atmosphere as the building blocks of a foundation upon which to construct your own path out into the world.
Minion and I are neither indifferent deadbeats nor helicoptering anxious wrecks. We cannot shelter our child in the comforting mantle of wealth or privilege, as we have neither to give, but I’m certain we will be able to provide him with everything he needs — because we are in this together, and because through our partnership, we have built our love nest high upon a throne of deference and devotion, in the hopes that will bestow upon our brood every advantage we can impart. I’m confident that should be enough to allow him to bravely face anything life can throw at him — and for everything else, as long as we’re able, we will be right there with a helping hand to lift him up with the support he needs to make up the difference whenever he calls upon us, because that’s what it means to put love into action... and to pass it on.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 25 - Topic: THE CATBIRD SEAT
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